January 19, 2021.
President-elect Joe Biden is asking Congress to immediately pass a stimulus and relief package, dubbed the American Rescue Plan. Part of this plan would reinstate and expand benefits that expired under the FFCRA on December 31, 2020. The new plan would extend benefits through September 30, 2021. Of particular interest to VLCT members is that, unlike the FFCRA, this plan provides for state and local governments to be eligible for federal reimbursement of wages they pay out to employees who qualify. Should this plan become law, VLCT will keep members apprised.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFRCA) became law on April 1, 2020 and expired on December 31, 2020. The FFCRA had provided for paid sick leave and expanded Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave to qualified employees for certain COVID-19 pandemic-related reasons.
With the expiration of the FFCRA, municipalities may feel less certain about how to handle situations that continue to affect their employees, such as required quarantine time or school/daycare closings. Questions may involve:
- Whether and how to pay employees for pandemic-related time off
- When to require use of accrued paid leave
- How best to facilitate telework arrangements
Based on recent member inquiries, here are some basic tips and information to keep in mind when making decisions about policies and practices as the pandemic continues into 2021:
- It is vital to always follow the municipality’s personnel policies and collective bargaining agreements.
- Though not required to extend FFCRA benefits beyond December 31, 2020, employers may voluntarily do so. Unfortunately, municipalities were excluded from the dollar-for-dollar reimbursement of FFCRA-related wages; however, municipalities were provided with limited relief through tax credits for Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes paid on such wages. These tax credits have been extended through March 31, 2021.
- The U.S. Department of Labor recently added several questions to their list of FFCRA FAQS.
- The Vermont Earned Paid Sick Leave Law may apply to certain situations related to the pandemic. The Vermont Department of Labor’s Rules on this law are posted at labor.vermont.gov/sites/labor/files/doc_library/Earned-Sick-Time-Rules.pdf
- Sometimes, employees voluntarily travel out of state for non-essential reasons. Per the Governor’s Order, such travel requires subsequent quarantine and time away from work if the employee cannot telework. Employers may establish a policy that requires pre-approval of vacations. See FAQs on the Vermont Agency for Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) website at accd.vermont.gov/covid-19-guidance/stay-home-stay-safe-business-faqs.
- The Governor’s Order encourages telework whenever possible. When an employee can effectively telework during quarantine, their need for paid or unpaid time off is eliminated.
- If seriously ill themselves or caring for a seriously ill relative, some employees may qualify for regular Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave and/or Vermont’s Parental and Family Leave Act (VPFLA) leave. Both laws provide for job-protected unpaid or paid leave for up to 12 weeks within a designated 12-month period. If an employee already used some days or weeks of extended FMLA permitted through the FFCRA, that time off counts toward the 12-week total, until the beginning of a new 12-month period under the member’s FMLA/VPFLA policy.
Generally, regular FMLA leave does not apply when members have fewer than 50 employees, and the VPFLA does not apply:
• for parental leave when members have fewer than 10 employees who work 30 or more hours per week, and
• for family (medical) leave when members have fewer than 15 employees who work 30 or more hours per week.
However, smaller municipalities should check their personnel policy for possible obligations created therein.
If an employee contracts COVID-19, members should immediately contact the Vermont Department of Health.
For questions about the FFCRA or other human resources issues, PACIF members may contact Senior HR Consultant Jill Muhr at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-262-1923.